By Sarah Ohlhorst, ASN Director of Government Relations

The White House recently issued a proclamation declaring September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. ASN has served as a national partner of National Childhood Obesity Awareness since 2010, along with other organizations including America on the Move, American College of Sports Medicine, and HealthCorps. In July, the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) endorsed a resolution introduced by Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Kay Granger (R-TX) re-designating the month of September as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Educational efforts and events are taking place throughout the entire month of September to bring national attention to the issue of childhood obesity. For example, Nickelodeon is planning a September 24 Worldwide Day of Play– a “blackout” day with zero television programming!

Obesity rates worldwide have doubled in the last three decades, according to a number of articles recently published in The Lancet as part of an obesity series. Globally, an estimated 170 million children under the age of 18 are overweight or obese. In some countries, this includes more than 25% of all children. In the U.S., approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese. Being overweight or obese as a child increases the risk of developing additional diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes and increases the likelihood of becoming an overweight or obese adult. The hospital costs associated with childhood obesity alone were estimated at $237.6 million in 2005.

ASN supports research to elucidate the etiology of childhood obesity, which is a multifactorial epidemic affecting the majority of Americans. Through translational research, ASN members are working to understand how obesity develops and negatively impacts the health of individuals. With this basic knowledge, they are developing and evaluating strategies to prevent obesity in individuals, to aid and maintain weight loss, and to identify and advocate for environmental and policy changes that best support a healthy weight in the U.S. population.

“ASN has increased our focus on the issue of obesity as its impact becomes more and more widespread, including establishing an Obesity Working Group with members who are leading obesity researchers to develop an obesity platform” said ASN Executive Officer John Courtney, PhD. “It is vital that NIH and USDA receive the funding they need so our scientists can continue their research into childhood obesity, it causes, and how to lessen its negative impact.”

Do your part to support National Childhood Obesity Month – help encourage healthy behaviors like regular exercise and good nutrition in your own city or state this month and throughout the year!

What makes fish smell “fishy”?

By Ann L.

If you have ever caught fresh fish, you know that it doesn’t have a particularly strong odor, maybe a hint of ocean or lake water.But sometimes the fish you get from the store can have a pungent “fishy” odor.What causes that smell?

The answer has to do with some interesting physiology unique to sea creatures.Water in the open ocean is about 3% salt by weight, but the optimal levels of dissolved minerals inside an animal cell is less than 1%.In order to maintain fluid balance, ocean creatures must fill their cells with amino acids and amines to counter the saltiness of seawater. Ocean fish tend to rely on trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) for this purpose.

The problem is that when fish are killed, bacteria and fish enzymes convert TMAO into trimethylamine (TMA), which gives off the characteristic “fishy” odor.This smell can be reduced in two ways.TMA on the surface of the fish can be rinsed off with tap water.Treating the fish with acidic ingredients such as lemon, vinegar, or tomato can also cause TMA to bind to water and become less volatile.Thus the odor compounds do not reach the nose.

Freshwater fish generally do not accumulate TMAO because their environment is less salty than their cells.As a result their flesh tends to be milder, and they do not get as “fishy” as ocean fish.However, freshwater fish sometimes suffer from an unpleasant “muddy” aroma.This often occurs in bottom-feeders such as catfish, and is caused by two compounds produced by blue-green algae (geosmin and methylisoborneol).These chemicals concentrate in the skin and dark muscle tissue of the fish.Acidic conditions will cause these compounds to break down, so there is good reason for the inclusion of acidic ingredients in traditional recipes.

Next time you have fish be sure to give it a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar!

Reference: McGee, Harold.On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.New York: Scribner, 2004.

By: Laura S.

I am currently training for my second marathon in my adult life, and while the aches and pains feel the same as last year, and as the mileage starts to creep up it feels like deja vu- one minor detail has changed: this year I am running the marathon as a vegetarian.

Vegetarian endurance athletes have become quite a trend in the last couple of years. Some noteworthy endurance athletes include Brendon Brazier (vegan ironman), Rich Roll (vegan ultra ironman), Robert Cheeke (vegan body builder), and Michael Arnstein (fruitarian ultra runner); just to name a few.

Giving up meat during this marathon training means I will be missing out on complete proteins and key amino acids from my diet. These amino acids are also called limiting amino acids and they are: lysine, threonine, methionine, and tryptophan. Limiting amino acids are found in the shortest supply from incomplete proteins. Incomplete proteins are those found in plant food sources and geletin.

The most frequently asked question I get asked when becoming a vegetarian involved getting enough protein. While I do not eat meat, fish, or dairy (except for yogurt) I get plenty of protein in my diet by using protein complementation.

Protein complementation is the most efficient way to get all 9 amino acids into a vegetarian’s diet. Protein complementation is when you combine two vegetable proteins (legumes and grains for an example) to get all 9 amino acids that are essential for your body. The breakdown of protein complementation goes like this:

 

Food Limited Amino Acid Complement
Beans Methionie Grains, nuts, seeds
Grains Lysine, threonine Legumes
Nuts/seeds Lysine Legumes
Vegetables Methionine Grains, nuts, seeds
Corn Tryptophan, lysine Legumes

By combining vegetarian protein sources you can ensure that you are getting all 9 amino acids. Protein complementation does not have to be done at the same meal. If you ate beans for lunch and then had some raw almonds for a snack later, you would be adding the methionine that you had missed out on during lunch.

A vegetarian diet, if planned correctly, can provide you with all of the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids the body needs.

By: Harini S.

Coconut water has long been the drink of choice for cooling parched throats in my home country of India and other tropical regions in Southern and Southeastern Asia as well as South America.  It is delicious, relatively cheap and is often a hygienic alternative to plain water, since it is drunk directly out of its tender coconut shell.  It is often prescribed as an adjunct therapy for dehydration due to gastroenteritis, and there are even sporadic reports in the literature of its use as a short term intravenous hydration agent, when medical saline is unavailable1.  Apart from these medical uses, it is also ubiquitous on the streets and beaches of western and southern India, where after people enjoy the cool coconut water itself, the coconut-vendor splits open the coconut and scrapes out the sweet translucent coconut flesh, which is particularly enjoyed by children.

Picture 1: A coconut vendor in southern India, a tender coconut ready to drink, and the flesh of a young coconut being scraped with a piece of the husk.

Cocos Nucifera, belonging to the palm family (Arecaceae) has long been cultivated in the tropics due to the multitude of uses for different parts of the tree.  Everything from the leaves to the outer husk of the coconut is used in the production of decorative as well as utilitarian items.  When the coconut is young, the outer husk is a light green in color and is quite easy to pierce with a sharp knife.  Coconut water is the clear liquid found in the center of a young coconut.  (This is not to be confused with coconut milk, which is, well, milky in color and made by grinding and squeezing the flesh of a much older coconut.)  Depending on soil conditions, coconut water ranges from very sweet to neutral to even slightly acidic in taste.  This is probably why the Brazilian coconut water I purchase here does not taste exactly like the Indian coconut water I grew up with, but it still evokes memories in my mind of balmy evenings spent chasing waves on the beaches of Bombay.

Nutritionally speaking, coconut water is a superstar of hydration.  It is naturally fat free and low in sugars.  According to various nutrition labels, a cup of coconut water contains about 10 g of natural sugars contributing upto 45 calories.  It also contains 600-680 mg of potassium (12%-14% of daily value), 40-60 mg of sodium (2%-3% of daily limit) and upto 6% and 10% of your daily calcium and magnesium needs, respectively.   Sports drinks generally contain a lot more added sugars, very little potassium, almost no calcium or magnesium, but a lot more sodium, which is the main electrolyte lost during intense physical activity.  So, while coconut water may not make the ideal sports drink on its own, combine it with a handful of salted pretzels, and you’re good to go.  Not only does it have a many more beneficial electrolytes, it is also free of the various preservatives and food colorings that are added to the glow-in-the-dark colored sports drinks that are on the market.  There are many different brands of packaged coconut water available in the US market these days.  They generally come in cans (which I find impart an unpleasant aftertaste to the water itself) or in tetra-paks, which, in my opinion, house a much better product.  While some products do contain extraneous ingredients, there are several which list simply coconut water as the only ingredient.  So perhaps the next time you are considering the beverages in your store, pick up a packet of coconut water and as you sip this refreshing drink, you too may be instantly transported to a sunny golden beach with the warm waters of the ocean gently lapping at your toes.

1.  Campbell-Falck D, Thomas T, Falck TM, Tutuo N, Clem K (2000). The intravenous use of coconut water. Am. J. Emerg. Med. 18 (1): 108-11.

By: Jovana K.

Over the past decade the use of low fat milk has become more prominent than the use of whole milk because there is substantial scientific evidence that consumption of foods high in fat causes weight gain and increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. However, there is some controversy over whether processed low-fat pasteurized milk can meet the needs of developing offspring and whether it should be consumed during pregnancy and development.

Milk Consumption During Pregnancy

Human brain development involves increased incorporation of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) in brain phospholipids. From the third trimester through to second year of postnatal life LCPUFA (i.e. docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA)) are actively incorporated into the developing brain. The proportion of DHA and AA that the infant has reflects the presence of these fatty acids in the maternal diet. Dietary sources of LCPUFA include fish, fish oil and DHA fortified dairy including milk.

Naturally, cow’s milk does not provide a rich source of DHA however in North America whole milk and partially skimmed milk (2%) are fortified with DHA by adding DHA rich feed additive to cattle’s diet. Skim milk or low fat milk (1%) cannot be fortified with DHA because DHA is contained in the milk fat. The DHA-fortified milk products may allow mothers who do not eat large quantities of fish to obtain the levels of DHA that their baby needs for brain and central nervous system development.

Milk Consumption During Postnatal Development

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that toddlers drink whole milk because fatty acids are helpful for brain and bone development. However, some doctors recommend low fat or skim milk to overweight or obese children. Whether low fat or skim milk protects children from weight gain is under debate.

According to a cohort study of 12,829 US children aged 9 to 14 years, weight gain is associated with excess calorie intake and consumption of low fat or skim milk, but is not associated with drinking whole milk products. This finding although surprising is consistent with some animal findings. Pigs fed reduced-fat milk gain weight easily while pigs fed whole milk stay lean. Male rats fed whole milk had significantly lower concentrations of plasma triglycerides, very low-density lipoproteins and apolipoprotein B than rats fed low fat milk. The effects of whole milk on lipid profile and body composition are not well understood, but the process of removing fat from milk may in part be responsible for some of the observed effects.

Milk is an emulsion of butterfat globules and water-based fluid. Butterfat contains unique nutrients that support thyroid function and help the body develop muscle rather than fat. The butterfat properties of whole milk are different from that of low fat or skim milk, which may help to explain the effects of whole milk on body composition. Future studies should explore the mechanism by which whole milk may protect infants from gaining weight.